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Demystifying Motion Capture


“Performance Capture technology is here to stay!”

Or so says the Visual Effects Society who will be holding a seminar on motion capture techniques on Saturday night, June 29th. Demystifying Motion Capture Techniques will be held at the Sony Pictures Imageworks studio in Culver City and will feature guest speakers from ILM, Henson Digital, Sony and others. More information on this event is here.

  • pat

    I just choked a little when I opened the cartoon brew front page and that thing was staring through me.

  • The Motion Capture has definitely a place in the industry, let’s hope that 2D feature films will come back soon and we all can live together in harmony…

  • Motion capture IS here to stay because it’s just another way to do work and can be used to make films we all wanna watch just as easily as any other process. Yeah technology!

  • J. J. Hunsecker

    “Performance Capture technology is here to stay!”

    So get use to the creepy, sterile, cold, souless look.

  • I think motion capture is a powerful tool, one which can be used to great effect in the right hands. Someday, maybe, the right hands will get a hold of it. But right now all we get is stale, bland non-animation, because folks who utilize this stuff don’t seem to understand that just moving the characters isn’t enough – you have to make us feel it!

    It’s a real shame.

  • Artisticulated

    “But right now all we get is stale, bland non-animation…”

    Well Adam, Gollum would disagree with you. But I think he’s the only one who gets to.

  • Shouldn’t the title of the seminar be, “Demystifying the Uncanny Valley”?

  • Bobby D.

    Loved Polar Express as did my kids…it’s part of our Christmas traditions now…we could care less how it was made. Do you care what kind of brush was used on a classic painting? Polar has some of the most beautifully staged , visually stunning scenes of any “animated” film I’ve ever scene…the North Pole being a prime example. Sorry. Good luck on the unleashing this debate again :) It’s Red State, Blue State time again.

  • Marcus

    Hence the term “Character Animation.”

  • Ron
  • I don’t know why but sometimes I prefer when Amid covers the news ;-)

    As said above, Gollum would disagree with Adam but he would be the only one

  • I’m not sure I ever saw a “myst” in motion capture to “demystify.” It’s just another computing mode to pretend that something is animation when the machine has done all the work – and it looks it. “Animus” means soul in latin. No computer will give a character animus – with or without the human help.

  • Laughing Dragon

    The Polar Express had one thing in common with Christmas: it was cold-looking as hell. Every character looked like he’d shared cryogenic vault space with Walt, and there was no sparkle, no warmth, no magic. Bleah. I do understand that motion-capture is a useful tool, but I don’t think it’s suitable for animating appealing characters. Digital rotoscoping is no more convincing than traditional rotoscoping. It does not successfully express “the illusion of life”.

  • Shannon

    Artisticulated, I believe the animators who helped bring Gollum to life would strongly disagree with you. There was a lot more key frame animation done on Gollum than most people realize. It’s unfortunate that their work is continually swept under the rug.

  • Oy, again with the mocap…here’s what it all comes down to:
    When motion capture technology can consistently guarantee Gollum level of quality and nuance (and perhaps more so), then the technique will be widely accepted amongst our industry. Until then, it will be looked down on, as all quality-compromising productions are.

    Of course, this will eventually happen– my guess would be, around 2015 motion capture will be standardized. If the last few Siggraphs weren’t indication enough…

  • Tom Pope

    Not a fan of Mo-Cap as I’ve seen it used in most cases (Except Gollum. Now I feel like an echo.) But I will say that the picture used here as an example maybe be unfair to the medium. It couldn’t get any worse than that. But I’m sure it has.

  • Did anyone see Appleseed, Ex Machina or Renaissance? Both very nice usages of performance capture technology. It seems to work best when the CG character ISN’T a simulation of the real life actor, which is what Zemeckis has been doing to ill effect.

  • Claire

    Oddly enough, I’ve seen more expressive mo-cap in video games recently than in many “animated” films. I guess there are more practical reasons for it there—the creators want to have something as close as possible to photorealism, but they can’t just shoot real actors because many elements, like camera angles and costume and props, are variable depending on how the game is played.

    I’m a little out of the gaming world of late, but the PSP game Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII has surprisingly effective mo-cap “acting.” Good enough to make me suspect there’s a rising class of specialized mo-cap body actors. It looks like they have a mime’s sense of how broad to make their movements (in a good way) and how to inject character into every movement—unlike most regular film actors just coming to mo-cap, where most of their acting seems to be on a level of nuance that gets lost in the transition. I would suspect there’s a lot of keyframing on the faces in Crisis Core, but I’m not sure.

    Also for creating humanoid uglies in live-action special effects—especially when the creature has to closely match a real actor as in The Mummy or the recent Terminator 3—mo-cap is pretty obviously the way to go.

    So mo-cap definitely has its place, and can be done very well—in situations like the above, where the creators would NOT actually be better served by just filming real actors or using actual animation.

  • IF you caught Polar Express in stereoscopic IMAX 3D it was quite an engaging film, easily attaining its goal of being a great “ride”.

    You can bitch about how they spent so much money to get flawed performances, but if you don’t give it both barrels… how do you know if the test was fair or not? And it’s not like that $140 million came out of the pockets of anyone here.l

    Ward Jenkins did a very revealing analysis of Polar Express a few years ago. Be sure to read the second half where he shows how attention to just a few details could have improved the result dramatically.


  • I have to admit, motion-capture does have potential in the future, but only if it’s steered in the right direction & used effectively, correctly & appealingly.

    But for now, MoCap still needs a lot of work. (Don’t look in that kid’s eyes, you’ll turn to stone)

  • Max

    re: Claire
    Well, except for the fact that the acting never goes straight from the ping pong suit to the screen. Even in video games the mocap data gets pretty heavily massaged by animators, and as Shannon pointed out, Gollum was at least half key framed.
    When it comes down to how the actual video game and feature pipelines work, motion capture seems to essentially function as very expensive and clunky video reference. On just about every mocap’ed show I’ve heard about (from an animator’s perspective, of course) the producers would have been better off just setting a pile of reference videos down on the animators’ desks for them to use when hand-keying.

  • I think the work in Peter Jackson’s “King Kong” was quite well done. If you put the time and budget into it, and get artists working with the technology, the results can be quite good. When the technology is used as a time or budget saver and nothing else, the results are not very good. It’s a lot like more traditional animation in that regard.

  • Ghoest

    MoCap is already the standard. Most of it is used as animator reference

  • First, I would like to second Shannon’s comments that there is a lot more keyframe animation done on motion capture than we think. John Matthews, one of the lead animators on Polar Express (and fine filmmaker in his own right), told me that he and others ended correcting the problems with the original mocap material using keyframe animation.

    Second, I think one of the main problems many in animation have with it is what one of my students, Paul Krause, pointed that the technology essentially turns animation into a postproduction process.

    Third, new technologies are often misused and abused in their early years. One only has to think of the parade of really awful nonanimated films made during the early days of talking pictures, or some of the first computer animated films. In the end, it is just a tool, no more inhuman than any of the other technologies used in animation — and animation of all types, including hand drawn, are products of technology in one form or another.

  • Wes

    I’m not sure what film that shot is from, but my first thought was that the eyes need a little white high-light in them… it might give them a bit more life. I’m not really a fan of mo-cap, but I think with the right artists you could get some amazing stuff.

  • Like someone said, here we go again. And again people need to realize that almost no mocap was used in Kong, definitely at least half of Gollum was hand keyframed and that most of the time the mocap data is thrown out.

  • Pedro Nakama

    Mo-cap needs a lot of work and is very expensive to produce. If anyone is going to this event here are the questions to ask:
    1. How much over-budget were Polar Express and Beowulf?
    2. How much of the mo-cap had to be fixed by animators?
    3. How much did Polar Express and Beowulf make at the box office?
    4. Why did Robert Zemeckis leave Imageworks to start his own comapny.
    5. When you look at the total final budget is it really less than making a feature animated film?

  • Steve Gattuso

    I’m surprised no one has mentioned the one film where motion capture actually contributed to the film. In “Surf’s Up,” the creators wisely chose not to use it for any character animation, but instead used it to simulate the camera movement to create the documentary feel of the final production. This is an amazing turnaround of the technique, and one that I think has other uses besides what has been seen so far.

    It is a tool. Nothing more. Just as you don’t use a hammer to cut a board, you don’t use an animation technique where it does nothing to enhance the experience.

  • tom

    I never hear anyone mention my least favorite mocapped character, the obligatory fat kid in Monster House. The dead, hangdog pear-shaped face topping a body expressing a collection of unnecessary and distracting tics really represents what for me is the nadir of mocap achievement. Yes, you can sweeten a mocapped performance, but it’s all done at the pleasure of the director and producers. This was as good a film performance as they wanted to make. The goth babysitter similarly seemed to be animated with all of the life and nuance of a character in a Playstation 1 game cut scene.

    It’s all about taste, and so far most mocap performances haven’t shown much taste in my opinion.

  • My sorrow knows no limits…..

    So much for watching interesting stuff.


  • I hear all the speakers have cold, dead-looking eyes.

  • King Kong. Gollum. Who do these two performances have in common? Andy Serkis, who seems to be the first master of mo-capped performance. His dance background and ability to act put him head and shoulders over any other attempt to use mo-cap in the movies.

    Also people are bringing up the difference between WETA Workshop’s use of mo-cap and everyone else’s. Lots and lots of hand-done keyframes to soften the harshness. Actual artists with hands-on time with the raw data. Artistry. When Zemeckis does mo-cap, he doesn’t bother with those fripperies. Hence, uncanny valley here we come.

    It bears mentioning how Max and Dave Fleischer actually used their invention of rotoscoping, at least in the beginning. Rotoscoping served as a guide for hand animation. Not as something you trace. Of course, by the time the Fleischers got to Gulliver’s Travels they were using rotoscoping to cheat, ala Zemeckis. But Koko the Clown was hand animated based on a human being’s motion, not merely traced.

    Learn from history, folks. Mo-cap as guideline and as launchpad for hand animation? Good. Mo-cap as a new way of “tracing” human motion and human images? Bad.

  • tom

    Michelle Klein-Hass- both of those performances shares producers and shared Peter Jackson as director, and Weta as the special effects house executing the animation. Also, those aren’t characters in an animated film, and aren’t ‘cartoon characters’, which is a distinction that gives a character some room to be less believable on one hand, but makes a nuanced performance all the more important for the animators to execute.

    I’d credit Jackson and Weta as well as Serkis for those characters.

  • I’m holding my breath for the mocapped Tintin film that’s coming up (with Serkis as Haddock, or so I’ve read). I guess the whole “dead eye” issue won’t be a problem with Herge’s black dot pupils.

    (And I still think Polar Express looks like Christmas Eve of the Living Dead.)